Boeing has unveiled its concept for a hypersonic demonstrator aircraft that could lead to a successor to the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. Designed to reach top speeds above Mach 5, the demonstrator would nearly double the SR-71’s top speed of 3,540 km/hr or 2,200 mph.
The new ‘Son of Blackbird’ was revealed at an event in Orlando, Florida, but it’s only a concept design for now.
Though just a concept for the time being, the design is based on more than 20 years of knowledge gleaned from projects such as NASA’s experimental X-43 hypersonic aircraft, which, interestingly enough, currently holds the record for being the fastest aircraft in history after reaching a speed of Mach 9.6, or 7,310 MPH.
The new aircraft will be a direct competitor to Lockheed Martin’s upcoming SR-72. These rival firms are racing to create a hypersonic aircraft that’s capable of stealthy recon assignments as well as strike missions.
For the Pentagon, such speeds would represent a new form of strategic deterrence in the sense that a hypersonic bomber could penetrate an enemy’s airspace, fire and depart before that nation had time to react. Aboulafia noted, however, that such a capability could also be considered a destabilizing development if a U.S. adversary decided to react preemptively to such an aircraft’s existence.
The specific need is also unclear, given advances in satellite surveillance capabilities and the planned B-21 Raider, a precision bomber from Northrop Grumman Corp. expected to replace the Air Force’s aged fleet of B-1 Lancers adn B-52s. The B-21 could cost as much as $97 billion for production and maintenance of at least 100 planes, with the first expected in the mid-2020s.